Every year, the Halliday Wine Companion Awards recognise the best in the business from the thousands of Australian wines tasted for the annual guide. The awards comprise Winery of the Year, Wine of the Year, Winemaker of the Year, Dark Horse of the Year, Best New Winery and Best Value Winery, with the inaugural Viticulturist of the Year also to be named this year. Traditionally presented at a ceremony on the eve of the release of the Halliday Wine Companion in celebration of the book’s launch, this year will mark the second time the event is being broadcast. Ahead, we round up every award winner since the inception of that event, plus a few from before then, too.
Winery of the Year
You can’t talk about Australian wine without mention of Penfolds. The Barossa Valley powerhouse and its pinnacle wine Grange is guaranteed to get wine lovers’ eyes to light up. This iconic brand was named Winery of the Year at the inaugural Halliday Wine Companion Awards.
Fellow Barossa winery Hentley Farm Wines (which coincidentally snagged ex-Penfolds viticulturist Greg Mader) was the next cab off the rank, with a whopping 19 red wines scoring between 94 and 98 points in that year’s guide. Shiraz was the star, followed closely by cabernet sauvignon.
Multi-generational label Tahbilk got the gong the following year, impressing with its continuous history and rare wines from ancient vines. Tahbilk’s 19th-century vineyard and underground cellars still stand in central Victoria today.
It would be remiss for the Hunter Valley’s Mount Pleasant not to get a mention. The legacy of Australian wine legend Maurice O’Shea is now under the stewardship of McWilliam’s Wines, and the New South Wales winery is home to an exceptional line-up of shiraz and semillon.
Family-run Yarra Valley label Mount Mary is recognised for its perfectionist approach, with pinot noir and chardonnay among the highlights. “Elegance, balance, purity and length” are all words used to describe these wines.
Also in the Yarra Valley is Seville Estate. Like Mount Mary, this family winery is a pioneer of the Upper Yarra that was also founded by a former doctor. But distinctly, Seville Estate is a long-time champion of shiraz in this cooler area.
Clare Valley’s Jim Barry Wines took out the title the same year the winery celebrated its 60th year. The Barry family has long blazed a trail for its riesling wines and traditional reds, while more recently, they have showcased how the white Greek variety assyrtiko can thrive here in Australia.
The reigning winners are another long-standing family winery with an exceptional reputation – Henschke. Led by viticulturist Prue Henschke with winemaker husband Stephen, and with the next generation immersed in the business, the award recognised the winery's history, legacy and consistently excellent wines at all levels.
Wine of the Year
James Halliday’s first Wine of the Year was the 2010 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir. Near to the southernmost point of Australia, the cooler climate of Gippsland in Victoria provides ideal growing conditions for pinot noir, and Bass Phillip is a cult producer of the variety in this area.
Cabernet sauvignon is one of Australia’s most underrated varieties, but considering its high calibre, it deserves more attention. From a leading cabernet region and a winery not new to accolades, the 2011 Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon was the second Wine of the Year.
It’s rare when quality and affordability combine, but they do in the 2014 Serrat Yarra Valley Shiraz Viognier. This 99-point red retailed at $42 at the time of its win, and in spite of the huge demand for and limited supply of this wine, the price tag remains practically the same today.
Of course, Henschke, the Eden Valley family winery with an incredible pedigree, would eventually appear here. The 2012 Henschke Hill of Grace gets the gong for its profound sense of place, elegance and history – the crown jewel of an outstanding range and a “magnificent, flawless wine”.
It was a surprise to many when a riesling received a 99-point score from James, as he had never awarded a white wine so highly before. Even more surprising was the price of this wine, retailing for just $35. The 2017 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling is a stellar example of what the Great Southern can do with this variety.
And in a testament to just how far grenache has come in recent times, the 2020 Wine of the Year went to the 2016 Yangarra Estate Vineyard High Sands McLaren Vale Grenache. Yangarra’s Peter Fraser was named 2016 Winemaker of the Year (find out more below), with James Halliday calling this release a “magnificent wine”.
Last year, the honour went to the Hunter Valley's 2018 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz – the flagship shiraz from the winery. It also coincided with chief winemaker Iain Riggs's retirement, and came somewhat full circle for James Halliday, who co-founded the winery in 1970.
Best Value Winery
Western Australia’s West Cape Howe Wines prides itself on showcasing the best of the state’s regions, and it does so with aplomb. Its extensive range of wines regularly over-delivers.
Another west-coast star, former Winery of the Year winner Larry Cherubino Wines continues to impress. Consistency and high-quality fruit are key.
Clare Valley’s Grosset is one of Australia’s most premium wineries. As James says, though, on a world scale, these wines are significantly underpriced. Winemaker Jeffrey Grosset is famed for his riesling, but he also makes excellent chardonnay, pinot noir, and white blends.
The name says it all – Provenance produces top-tier southwest Victorian wines using first-rate fruit from Ballarat, Henty, the Macedon Ranges and its home base in Geelong (now with a stunning cellar door in a restored 1870s paper mill).
In the 2020 awards, Domaine Naturaliste was recognised for its quality collection of wines that shine a light on Margaret River’s strengths. Long-time winemaker Bruce Dukes is behind this label, and he is passionate about the region and what it does best.
Last year, the winner once again disproved the idea that value always means cheap. Best's Wines from Great Western in Victoria produce some stellar wines under $30, but they also craft super-premium expressions at the other end of the price spectrum, which represent their distinctive and historic site.
Winemaker of the Year
Robert Diletti of Castle Rock is a classic quiet achiever. In his humble way, he attributes his great wines to great sites – James says he prefers German-American wine merchant Peter Sichel’s view that the vineyard determines the character of the wine, the winemaker the quality. In addition to his role with Castle Rock, Rob is a contract winemaker and helped create current Wine of the Year the 2017 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling.
Peter Fraser realised his love for wine in an unusual place – as an officer in the Australian Army. It was after trying iconic Aussie reds in the officers’ mess hall that he decided to pursue a degree in oenology. Today, Peter is at the helm of Yangarra Estate Vineyard in McLaren Vale, a brand he helped the US-based Jackson Family Wine Group to establish. Rhone varieties such as grenache and shiraz are key, and the vineyard employs strict biodynamic practices.
When Sarah Crowe stepped into the chief winemaker position at Yarra Yering in 2013, she was faced with some weighty expectations. Dr Bailey Carrodus founded the winery in 1969, and before he passed in 2008, he expressed his wish that his brand is carried on in much the same way. Despite Bailey’s ghost looking over her shoulder, Sarah has made her mark while still respecting the range in a way that few others could.
Bleasdale is a historic South Australian winery and, similar to Sarah, winemaker Paul Hotker has had to be mindful of the established style. But over more than 10 years with the brand, he has steadily elevated the range and added his touch, producing leading Langhorne Creek wines.
Margaret River-based Julian Langworthy is one of Australia’s favourite winemakers. He also makes excellent wine and has the overflowing trophy cabinet to prove it. Deep Woods Estate is his primary focus, but he consults to several other wineries in his role with the Fogarty Wine Group.
Following Julian’s win in a Margaret River double act is Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines. Vanya is a biodynamics pioneer, and this award coincided with her 30th anniversary as senior winemaker at this iconic winery that her parents founded.
And last year, the Barossa's Brett Grocke of his Eperosa label collected the big award, reflecting his incredible care and attention in the vines and winery. Since first submitting his wines to the Companion for tasting, more than half have scored 95 points or more.
Dark Horse Winery
The success of Singlefile Wines is manifold. It starts with the purchase of an 18-year-old vineyard in Western Australia’s Denmark by owners Phil and Viv Snowden. Add a little help from Larry Cherubino of former Winery of the Year and Best New Winery fame, top fruit from across the state and a crack winemaking team, and you have a winning formula.
After being bought by four industry veterans in 2008, Haselgrove Wines in McLaren Vale was “a winery on the move”, according to James. Following a reboot of the range, today, this is a five-star winery making diverse wine styles.
Originally intended to be a weekend escape for owner Peter Slattery, Terindah Estate is in a spectacular spot right on the water in Geelong. After realising its wine-producing potential, 40 acres of vines, a winery, cellar door and restaurant were added to the site. Several wines are grown and made here, but shiraz and pinot noir are top performers.
The revival of Margaret River’s Arlewood Estate has been a labour of love. Following a number of ownership changes, Garry Gosatti bought the site in 2007 and proceeded to spend four years living and working on the rundown vineyard. The estate-grown wines, made by Stuart Pym of former Best New Winery Flowstone, reflect the care that has gone in. Semillon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are the heroes.
Yarra Valley’s Boat O’Craigo winery is a family-run business that in recent years has seen son Travers Graham come in and take the reins, giving the whole operation a facelift. James took notice and raised the winery’s score from four to five stars, as well as naming it his Dark Horse of 2018. Winemaker and former Best New Winery winner Rob Dolan is the talent behind the scenes.
Principia is a dark horse in more ways than one. After falling in love with wine on a trip to the Barossa, owner/operator Darrin Gaffy gave away his 25-year career as an engineer to start this Mornington Peninsula winery. Having never completed any formal winemaking training, Darrin has worked it out along the way, which makes this win all the more impressive. The philosophy is one of minimal interference, and Darrin produces just two varieties – pinot noir and chardonnay.
Collecting the 2020 title was North East Victoria’s Dal Zotto Wines, with the Dal Zotto family proudly paying homage to their Italian heritage through their collection of wines. They have carved out a special place in the Australian wine landscape with their prosecco, now made in various styles, and the family was the first to plant this grape in Australia.
And the reigning Dark Horse is Yarran Wines from the Riverina in New South Wales. Winemaker Sam Brewer oversees the range – the highest-priced wine being just $32 – at his family winery, which proudly champions this unsung region.